Federal appeals court upholds life sentence of convicted al Qaeda terrorist

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion text, PDF] the life sentence imposed on a former Osama bin Laden aide after he stabbed a prison guard in the eye in 2000. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 54, is a Sudanese-born Iraqi who at the time of the stabbing was awaiting trial for an al Qaeda conspiracy [Bloomberg report] that included the 1998 terror attacks [DOS backgrounder] on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2002 Salim pleaded guilty to attempted murder of and conspiracy to murder [18 USC §§ 1114 and 1117] a federal official after he stabbed Louis Pepe, a guard at the federal jail in lower Manhattan, with a plastic comb in November 2000. Salim appealed his sentence primarily on the ground that his right to be physically present at the sentencing hearing was violated when he attended by videoconference. The court ruled that the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] erred in finding that the government had met its burden of proving that Salim had waived his right to be present at the hearing, but under plain error review found that Salim was not prejudiced by the error. The court also rejected Salim's arguments that the life sentence was unreasonable.

In 2008 the Second Circuit ruled that Salim could be resentenced according to heightened standards [JURIST report] for acts of terrorism. The government argued that the district court should have imposed a longer sentence according to the enhanced sentencing guidelines for acts of terrorism [US Sentencing Guidelines § 3A1.4, PDF]. The Second Circuit agreed, rejecting the district court's contention that the crime could not be considered terrorism because it did not transcend national boundaries. The appeals court held that the terrorism enhancement does not require transnational conduct, stating that "Congress could have defined 'Federal crime of terrorism' to include a requirement that the offense conduct transcend national boundaries, but it did not." Also in 2008 the Second Circuit upheld [JURIST report] the convictions of three men related to the 1998 embassy attacks.

 

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